Frozen feet, warm hugs all in a day’s work for a TA

With the jobs of 8,500 teacher assistants hanging in balance as N.C. lawmakers hammer out a final budget, let me tell you what teacher assistants in our public schools really do.

Your day begins standing in below-freezing temperatures letting children out of their cars during morning arrival. You wave at everyone, open doors, pick up fallen lunchboxes, answer parents’ questions, all while your nose goes numb and your toes curl from the cold.

You walk into your homebase classroom to find a frantic teacher. Cam doesn’t have his lunch and it’s field trip day. You run to the cafeteria and help the staff throw together a bag lunch.

Your first tutoring group is a fourth-grade leveled literacy intervention (LLI). For the next 45 minutes you read to, listen to and discuss with these children

Oh! A five-minute break … to run downstairs and grab the materials for your next LLI group.

Now it’s time for your math tutoring group. Kayla is having trouble and breaks into tears. You do your best to counsel her after the others leave.

A quick 25-minute (if you’re lucky) lunch

You’re late to pick up your third-grade planning coverage. You run to your homebase to get your coat and hoof it outside.

After more tutoring, you’re back in your homebase. Ken’ye isn’t sure what to do with his activity, and neither is Joseph. You take them to a separate table and try to reteach the concept. Joseph can’t use the scissors because of fine motor difficulty so you run and find the special pair he needs. Ken’ye keeps falling asleep. You feel his head and think he may be sick. You run Ken’ye to the nurse.

After you’ve punched out, you check on Ken’ye in the nurse’s office. His mom’s work number is busy, and the nurse can’t find any other numbers to call. You run back to the classroom and get his uncle’s phone number from his file to give to the nurse. (Keep in mind, you’re off the clock at this point.)

On your drive home, you think about everything that happened and what will happen the next day. You think about the students the most – the ones who are struggling, the sick ones and the ones who hug you every single time they see you in the hall.

It’s impossible to accurately detail a day in the life of a TA because every single one of us has a different set of duties and a different schedule. We are coverage for teachers, helpers for students, tutors, friendly faces, parent contacts, nurses, bus drivers, chaperones, playground monitors, cafeteria monitors, secretaries and more. We do it all. And we do it for practically nothing. We are a vital part of the school day for hundreds of thousands of students in this state, and taking us away is only adding insult to an already injured workforce.

Ask parents what the assistant in their child’s kindergarten class has done for the students. Ask teachers what assistants do for them. Ask actual assistants what they do. We work hard. We educate. We protect. We help. We care. We pick up the pieces. Most of all, we support our teachers, the parents and our students.

I invite lawmakers to go to an elementary school and be an assistant for a day. Live our life and then decide the value of our positions. They owe the students that much.

Leah Crews of Charlotte has been a teacher assistant in Charlotte-Meckenburg schools for four years.